Let's establish one thing up front: Kasey's BBQ is not Howard's Pit BBQ, though when you reduce it to what really matters — smoke, sauce and legacy — it pretty much is. And that's a great thing.
James McNeill managed his father Howard Smith's locally recognized restaurant for several of the 40 years it operated. It closed in mid-2010, and last June, McNeill took over this former Anthony's Italian turned Walkabout Pub & Grill, off Union Boulevard.
In November McNeill introduced his family's recipes to the bar patrons, desiring to turn the window-less space back into a family dining destination by day. There's no denying that it remains a drink spot after hours, with two pool tables, a DJ area, a few flat-screens and only Bud and Bud Light on tap. (Fat Tire highlights the small bottled beer selection, past liquor offerings.)
But regardless of what it feels like to eat kick-ass barbecue with plastic forks on foam plates inside a relic nightclub, the fact remains: You're eating kick-ass barbecue, conventions be damned.
The three-meat sampler with two sides and a dinner roll ($10.99) is the obvious choice for its hefty value; the two-meat plate is only a dollar less, with single-meat plates running $7.99 to $8.99.
Though they only see apple-wood smoke for around four hours, as compared to the beef brisket's 10 hours and pulled pork's 12 to 14 hours, Kasey's ribs offer the smokiest flavor on the menu. I'm talking deeply smoky, with a generous char (too much on a couple edges) that meets a black-pepper bite and a mild heat from the excellent, house-made barbecue sauce. McNeill doesn't offer its full recipe, but confirms the presence of brown sugar, and calls his a fusion of Kentucky and North Carolina styles.
That same sauce is used on the hot links and beef brisket, though the pork gets its own traditional mustard-and-vinegar-based dousing to handle the fattier meat. (Most meats are marinated for a full day prior to smoking.) Our pulled pork portion had a noticeably gamier flavor, but was rendered perfectly delightful and super-soft from its tenderizing bath. The beef brisket was a little chewier on a lunch visit than a previous dinner one, but still great because of the slightly sweet sauce and ample smoke. The hot link sandwich, unruly as a pile of diagonally cut sausage wedges mounded in a bun, brought respectable spice and again plenty of smoke; nothing at Kasey's suffers from subtlety.
Chicken strips are plenty moist and crispy-skinned, needing no dip for enjoyment, whereas the still blond-crusted catfish could use a longer fry. An outside-the-Southern-genre Philly sandwich nails the classic with a good French bread hoagie, thin-sliced rib eye sautéed with onions and peppers, and a gooey, gratifying Mozzarella finish.
Sides, too, are uniformly good, save for a corn on the cob that's too soggy. (Without a to-order boil or grill, I say don't do it.) The potato salad boasts a wonderful pickle-y edge; the noticeably fresh, crisp slaw, a mild green-apple-like sweetness; the pork-laden baked beans, a balanced sweetness, too; and the basic, pre-bought French fries a nice barbecue-seasoning dusting, regrettably left off during our second visit.
Expect fruit cobblers by Memorial Day, the true kickoff to McNeill's busy barbecue season. He says half his business is already devoted to high-volume catering, so consider that an alternative to bar dining.
Otherwise — Howard or Kasey — I don't care. Just keep that smoke coming.